Faced with a number of choices on how to replace Marv Albert on his network's NBA coverage, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol last week went back to the option he wanted seven years ago, Bob Costas. But will Costas rue the decision?
When NBC snagged the rights to the NBA away from CBS in Ebersol immediately approached Costas -- whose first big broadcasting break was calling games for the Spirits of St. Louis of the ABA in the mid-1970s -- about taking the lead play-by-play slot.
However, Costas begged off basketball, arguing to Ebersol that Albert's presence on that sport would be as personally important to Albert as baseball would be to Costas. Ebersol agreed, with the proviso that Costas be host of the studio and pre-game portions of the NBA telecasts, and the arrangement worked well.
But with Albert's October conviction on misdemeanor assault charges as well as the subsequent lurid revelations about his private life and his dismissal from the network, Ebersol was forced to roll the dice and make a history-making but nonetheless difficult choice.
On the one hand, the network could have moved Greg Gumbel, the NFL studio anchor and No. 2 NBA announcer, into the top slot, thus making Gumbel the first African-American to be a lead play-by-play voice on a major sport, and leave Costas in the studio, or move Costas into the booth and tap Hannah Storm to be the first woman to be host of a studio show on a major sport.
With Storm having filled in for Costas last spring when he went on sabbatical, the choice of Costas probably seemed simple to Ebersol, but there are risks.
For one, there is the very real possibility that Costas, who is already the lead voice on the network's baseball playoff coverage as well as the prime-time host on its Olympics telecasts, may become overexposed to the audience. You need only see the rather precipitous fall from grace of Brent Musburger to know that the public can tire quickly of seeing the same announcer at every major event. Costas, of course, is nowhere near as much of an irritant as Musburger has become, but there is always the chance.
Then, there's the Gumbel factor. There are whispers that Gum- bel is itching to get out of the studio, and the NBA job would have been a plum assignment for him. What happens next with him could be interesting.
Besides shifting Costas and Storm and adding Isiah Thomas as the No. 1 analyst, the network dropped former lead analyst Matt Guokas to a third team, with Tom Hammond and Dan Issel, though he will appear occasionally in the studio. Gumbel, Steve Jones and Bill Walton will make up the second broadcast team.
Stuff to watch
Tonight's grand opening of the new arena in Washington will get double treatment, airing on Washington's Channel 9 and TNT. That's as simple as it gets. How you see it could be complicated.
People who live in the southern portion of the Baltimore area will be able to see the Wizards play Seattle (8 p.m.) on Channel 9, but not on TNT, because, under NBA rules, the cable channel must black out the game within 35 miles of the arena when a team's telecaster is carrying the game.
However, Comcast subscribers in Baltimore County will have their choice of TNT or the Channel 9 feed, which will appear on Channel 69. Howard County Comcast subscribers will not see the game on TNT, but will get it on Channel 69. Residents in Harford and Carroll counties and in the city will be able to see the contest on TNT. Get it?
After the game, TNT will present the 18th annual Women's Sports Foundation's "Salute to Women in Sports," the third straight year the channel has aired the affair.
Meanwhile, ESPN's annual "Great Eight" pairing of teams that advanced far into last year's NCAA men's basketball tournament begins tonight with a doubleheader, which opens with Utah meeting Providence at 7: 30, followed by the Arizona-Kansas tussle. Tomorrow's twin bill features North Carolina-Louisville and Kentucky-Purdue, also at 7: 30.
The ratings game
Call this a puzzler: With the college football season just about over, CBS is the only over-the-air network to show a ratings increase from last season.
Through games of Nov. 22, ABC's package of games was down 10 percent from last year, even though it had what appeared to be the most attractive games. NBC, which airs Notre Dame home games, saw its numbers fall 12 percent from last year, while CBS's slate is up 10 percent from this time last season.
Ratings for the 10 most-watched sporting events in Baltimore last weekend:
Event .. .. .. .. .. Day .. Ch. .. R/S
Ravens-Jags .. .. .. Sun. .. 11 .. 12.0/24
Fig. skating . .. .. Fri. .. 13 .. 11.7/20
Cowboys-Oilers .. .. Thu. .. 11 .. 11.3/32
Steelers-Cards .. .. Sun. .. 11 .. 8.4/14
Bears-Lions .. .. .. Thu. .. 45 .. 8.2/21
Fig. skating . .. .. Sat. .. 45 .. 7.2/12
NFL pre-game . .. .. Sun. .. 11 .. 5.3/13
Fig. skating . .. .. Thu. .. 13 .. 4.2/12
Fig. skating . .. .. Fri. .. 45 .. 4.1/7
Pub Date: 12/02/97